Rendezvous, Oleana, Peach Farm, Namaskar, Atasca
My mother and grandmother came to visit this weekend. We had several good meals, which I will list in descending order of satisfaction.
Peach Farm. Scallion pancake was ordinary but good (there's not much you can do with scallion pancake). Oysters on the half shell in black bean sauce were spectacular. These are the biggest, meatiest oysters I've ever eaten. The tangy fermented black beans meshed well with the oysters. Dry fried calamari were excellent too. Crispy, not too greasy or battery. An addictive burst of salty, spicy flavor. Sauteed pea pod stems sauteed in garlic were wonderfully fresh. Complementary rice and tea were good. All of this came to a little over $40. We all loved the meal. Indeed, I have yet to have one dish at Peach Farm that I could articulate a complaint about. This place is great.
Oleana. Had been here once and was not impressed. This time was better but I think I'm not as big a fan as may Chowhounders are. Atmosphere and service were wonderful, though some tables are very close to neighboring ones. Good wines by the glass. We shared the hummus, carrot puree, and walnut pate appetizers. Each, though simple, was delicious and meticulously spiced. The complementary bread along side was excellent. We loved this part of the meal. My entree was wild striped bass wrapped in strips of eggplant. It was cooked perfectly but was bland and boring. There was something referred to as baba ghanoush along side, which had little flavor except eggplant and did not resemble real baba ghanoush. If there were other sides, I forget them. Perhaps I just ordered a dish too mild for my tastes. Mom's monkfish was spicier and better, and served with delicious panisse coins. The baked alaska dessert was spectacular. Chocolate hazelnut baklava was pretty and tasted fine, but I prefer plain old baklava soaked in rosewater and honey (for $8 less).
(Aside: Had a delicious $3 almond paste pudding at Sultan's Kitchen yesterday. Wondered whether, in a blind taste, dishes from Sultan's Kitchen would beat out Oleana's higher-priced offerings. I haven't been to SK enough to make that claim though.)
Rendezvous. Had been here once and thought it was good but uneven. I had the same impression this time. The restaurant is pretty loud, and the tables are uncomfortably close to each other. One waitress was great, another provided awkward service. Wine by the glass was excellent. Complementary, slightly sour bread was fantastic. I thought the citrus salad was a boring mix of items that didn't really complement each other--mild feta, slices of citrus, pomegranate seeds, and chunks of slightly brown romaine lettuce. Grilled baby octopuses had an amazing smoky flavor. They were delicious, but we were disappointed by getting only five little octopuses for $11. The skate in brown butter sauce with cauliflower was basically perfect, greatly enjoyed it. Mom's vegetable pot pie did not look very impressive and she didn't think much of it. I like Rendezvous but I wouldn't call it great.
Namaskar. We had the lunch buffet. Mom thought it was average, I thought it was above average. I was happy that the patra (taro leaves) were on the buffet--I'm a big fan. The vegetables tend to be lightly seasoned and not too oily, but the spicing shows some refinement. It may be that because the flavors are not very assertive, the food can be underwhelming. I've always enjoyed the second rice Namaskar puts on the buffet--this time it was bright yellow lemon rice. The naan was much better than average.
Atasca. I'm a fan of O Cantinho, so I expected to like Atasca. I didn't. The atmosphere doesn't have the quaintness and serenity of O Cantinho. In the bar area, right next to our table, there was an annoying TV with the volume on (and it wasn't tuned to March Madness). I strongly support their long list of exclusively Portuguese wines. However, I hope for a little more from wine service. Glasses weren't matched to the wines, which were poured to the brim. A light-bodied red was served at an inappropriately high temperature. The wines were nice though. Complementary bread was stale but still OK. The seasoned olive oil for dipping was much too salty (c'mon, this doesn't even need salt). Fava beans were bland and undercooked to my tastes. Grilled shrimp in piri piri sauce on toast didn't work for me. Though there was nice grill flavor, the sauce left the shrimp and soaked the toast, making it soggy. So the shrimp were just shrimp. I would have preferred them shelled as well. The casserole of shrimp, tomatoes, and goat cheese was tasty and the best thing we ate. Charcoal-grilled cod looked excellent and was cooked well, but I found it tough to eat because of strange bone placement (on the outside of a steak?). It really didn't have any flavor except coddiness and charcoal. I got sick of it fast. The potatoes alongside were good. Chicken sauteed in mushrooms and port wine wasn't very good. It had a slimy breading and insipid flavor. Kidney bean risotto alongside was OK but too mushy. I would definitely recommend O Cantinho instead.
A really good scallion pancake should be a very crispy, thin and multilayered treat with a rich waft of scallion fragrance. Best had at places with a NE Chinese bent.
Agree re: Oleana -- the flavours are interesting, but certainly not too much more interesting than Sultan's Kitchen or Brookline Family Turkish Restaurant. Cooking technique isn't always perfect, compared to some of the nicer French/New American type places I've been to. I do like the desserts there, but haven't been for a long while.